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Teaching vocabulary across a school

A teacher describes how her school has created a structured way of teaching vocabulary using Beck and Mckeown’s menu of instruction
Our vocabulary project started about four years ago when we noticed that a lot of the children were struggling with their vocabulary, being able to express themselves and also in their reading, being able to clarify different words and often words that they might not use naturally. So we decided to put some research into place and because we felt that the area that we live in where it’s quite a large area of high working class white background disadvantaged area, that these children needed to have as much explicit teaching vocabulary is possible.
We started by doing a lot of active research looking at Isobel Beck and also looking at the 4000 most common words and we found that going through that list was hard to choose which words to actually teach the children, so we decided that we would use the text that teach from English teaching sequences as the source of the tier 2 words that we were going to choose and we decided that we wanted the vocabulary project of being very much orally based for a number of reasons.
Firstly, that the children would have more access to using the words in many different ways, and we could change the contexts very quickly and also children would be repeatedly hearing the word in lots of different ways, this also meant that writing wasn’t causing an additional barrier to any children and the children we’re really trying to target were actually those children who had a lower ability in writing and reading so it was important, and also just made a lot more fun for the children.
How we actually went about teaching, it was that we decided that the best way to do this would be using PowerPoint presentation and the children were taught the word shown that when given the definition of the word and then using an example of an image in the context that the children would be familiar with and they would then use that word in full sentences. That was really key to make sure the children were using complete sentences and also hearing it from the teachers as well and we worked quite hard at actually asking the children to stop and start again so that they knew they were talking full sentences.
To support this we also put sentence scaffolds onto the screen, and it meant that where a word would often be used in say two or three different contexts that the children would be very familiar with, and before moving onto a new word so we would get through about two words in the session which takes about 20 minutes and that the children are really active in all of that and they get very excited when it comes learning new words. After about a week, we probably got through about 4 to 5 words in a week.
We felt that firstly wanted more and but these words, we found the more that they use them, the more imbedded it became so, if we had too many words, it meant that it was quite shallow learning. So 4 to 5 words in a week worked well and the children are also using that in their writing, teachers modelled it of both orally and in their writing, and it was a lot about teachers, prompting children, having examples up on the wall on display and making sure that they were using the words, whenever it was necessary and appropriate, and at the end of the week with us to do a consolidation activity that was often a writing activity where children would write in sentences and play with the words.
It was often incorporated with spelling and handwriting, and that we actually found that because of the way that it was being successfully used in everyday teaching in their practice rights and independent rights, even in their foundation writing out a subject writing outside of English that is actually naturally being consolidated all the time.
Then from there really, just kind of evolved that more and more, and as children coming through, they would remember a lot of the words that they were being taught previously and use that, so if we were reading say as a class story or their own reading book, they would often get excited when they discovered the word that they we have been doing, knowing exactly what it meant and some of the younger children have a hand signal that they used to show that they recognise the word coming!
It’s developed really a lot over the last four years and as we’ve gone through, we’ve noticed that children worked really well with clarifying, it improves their clarifying immensely, whereas previously we were just putting in and telling the children what the word was what the definition was we now start our vocabulary sessions with the word in a sentence where perhaps it won’t be in same context as they will see it in the text.
The children are then given strategies to practice clarifying and often seeing if they can find synonyms, antonyms, reading around the word, root words, you can use root words in the spelling to help them understand the definition and then we would then present them with the definition afterwards, and actually the knock-on effect of that in the guided reading and overall comprehension means that they’ve become a lot more confident and at clarifying unfamiliar words, they may not have come across before.
In this video, Amy talks about how and why her school has developed a structure for teaching vocabulary.
She starts by talking about why her school decided to focus on vocabulary, thinking about where the words come from, how many words are taught and the use of powerpoint to structure the activities. To see an example of Amy’s powerpoint, go to the downloads below.
The book they were using was Animalium by Jennie Broom and Katie Scott.
The teaching sequence Amy used with this book is also available in the downloads. The sequence has been adapted to include vocabulary teaching.
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An Introduction to Teaching Vocabulary

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